Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What I did on my fall vacation

This month my husband and I took a week to travel around southernish areas and do some mountain biking.

Inspired by a recent article in Dirt Rag Magazine on the trails in Brown County State Park, Indiana, we decided to head down to the southern Illinois / Indiana-ish area. Here's a quick summary of our trail adventures!

Ride 1: Kickapoo State Park, IL

I LOVE these trails. These are the trails where I first learned to mountain bike, but I love them beyond that. These are 12 miles of fun, fast, flowy, challenging, twisty, lovely woodsy fun. Ride them if you're passing through central Illinois or even if you're passing nearish. It's so worth it.

Ride 2: Brown County State Park, IN

We were enticed by 25 miles of singletrack, promised to be "not too hard, not too easy." With the exception of the quite technical Schooner Trace (double black diamond) trail, all these trails were just right! The fall colors were just beginning to turn when we were there and the views from the high points of the trail were spectacular. Our main tip: be sure to fill up on water before driving to the trailhead. The only water we found was a feebly dribbling water fountain near the closed, winterized pool! Fortunately since we were camping, we could stock up at the campground for our long ride.

Ride 3: Land Between the Lakes, TN

We drove down to the far southern tip of this skinny, water-surrounded park to stop in at the welcome station and find out more about the North-South trail. My husband wanted to ride the length of the park. When we found out that the biking portion of the trail started a full 20 miles north, we ended up riding at the Fort Henry trails instead, open temporarily to mountain bikers. These trails were described by my husband as "old school mountain bike trails." That is, designed for hikers and horses, maybe a little eroded. Despite the occasional rough section or stretches of doubletrack, this little trail system was pretty fun to ride. We settled in at the campground that night and asked if there were any tent sites left. Suffice it to say we were the only tent in our section of the campground! It made stargazing great. Two meteors! Two satellites!

Ride 4: Land Between the Lakes, KY

The next day we drove up north into the Kentucky portion of the recreation area. We got info at the welcome station in the middle of the park, then Frank started riding up the North-South trail (about 30 miles of singletrack) and I headed up to the north end of the park to do my own riding. This is after ogling bison and stopping to tour a few old family cemeteries. I rode the Canal Loop - a nice 10 mile loop - with nice water views.

Ride 5: Lake Glendale, Shawnee National Forest, IL

More "old school mountain bike trails," these got us a little lost. There's a simple lake loop, plus unknown lengths of trails looping around wildly amidst the woods and rocks. We chatted with a park caretaker who told us that most of the trails were built locally without much organization or official sanction. Luckily for us, we had GPS and basic topo maps on our phones so we were able to wander our way through a 10 mile ride down single and double track - mainly designed for horses and hikers. Poison ivy abounded, which kept me off a few of the trails. The big bonus of these trails? Surprise rock formations buried in the woods and little sections of slickrock-like trail that made me nostalgic for Arizona riding.

Ride 6: Cedar Lake, Shawnee National Forest, IL

I dragged us to Giant City State Park for a hike and a stay at the campground, then we drove to Cedar Lake for our last ride of the trip. More old school trails, these were fairly eroded and rather technical. There was a lot of poison ivy on this trail, so I pulled out arm and leg warmers to serve as a shield. The trail was rough and I was tired, so I didn't do the full trail. By turning around I avoided a copperhead (which my husband jumped with his bike, then shooed off the trail). I also avoided a nest of yellow jackets (allergic) and a 1.5 inch long European Hornet buzzing around the car.

Unfortunately, I did not avoid a spectacular end-over-end crash that left me with a purple chin, hand, shoulder, hip, and this great big bruise above my knee. It really puts those little bruises in perspective! Nothing broken or dislocated though, so I'm putting this in the WIN column :)

We were going to stop by Kickapoo again, or the trails around Peoria (to be reviewed later), or even Rock Cut, but were stopped by rain! A great vacation.